Prophecy Written in Blood!
After two hundred years of searching for other immortals, the Undying High Lord Milo Morai has returned to the Horseclans to fulfill an ancient prophecy and lead them to their destined homeland by the sea.
But in their path wait the armed might of the Ehleenee and an enemy even more treacherous — the Witchmen — pre-Holocaust scientists who have survived the centuries by stealing other men's bodies to house their evil minds and who have in their hidden stronghold the means of destroying all who will not become their willing slaves.
Can even Milo save the Horseclans from the bloodthirsty Ehleenee and the malevolent Witchmen who would rip him to shreds to discover his secret of immortality?
Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.
His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.
He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).
5.0 out of 5 stars
"The Coming of the Horseclans" is a great fantasy book. The author Robert Adams paints a colorful picture of these post-cataclysmic times. I really enjoyed the people's abilities to mindspeak with the animals. This is a great book for a sci-fi readers group to discuss. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.Paige Lovitt -- Reader Views
5.0 out of 5 stars
I found the characters to be well developed, the pace to be fast, the plot both exciting and engaging, and finally the action to be non-stop and realistic.Jason Kowalski
5.0 out of 5 stars
The horseclan series books are among my favorite books in the world. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read, it is fantasy at its best, immersing the reader in realistic detail in a world where anything is possible and science has gone wrong.Joseph Baleimatuku
4.0 out of 5 stars
Bloody, Brutal Fantasy Debut! Here's a book it seems no one has heard about, and that's too bad. I read my first HORSECLANS book in high school, and it left an impression. For those who enjoyed 300 (or the better, lesser-known BLOOD OF HEROES), it seems that this book might have come out in the wrong decade. THE COMING OF THE HORSECLANS introduced a fantasy series that reveled in brutality; that painted a picture of a world we'd all be glad not to live in. It shares a kinship with John Norman's GOR series; but HORSECLANS is written better, and it's not hung up on that whole slave-girl-exploitation dreck. In other words, underneath the blood and the guts and the sex, there's a bona-fide story. Woo-hoo!Marcus Damanda -- Author of the vampire novel "Teeth: A Horror Fantasy"
4.0 out of 5 Stars
The "Horseclans" series is set six hundred years after a nuclear / biological / geological holocaust, a world in which the survivors of America have become horse nomads and the east coast has been resettled by incomers from Greece and Eastern Europe. Milo Moray is one of the few survivors from the Olde Days and he has returned from a long, wandering journey to retake leadership of the clans and to lead them to a new future on the coast. The action is headlong and the prose, while sometimes a bit purple, is actually quite enjoyable. Adams is up-front about simply providing entertainment, but he manages to blend in some quasi-libertarian commentary as well. He's also knowledgeable about military matters, so the verisimilitude is strong.Michael K. Smith -- Amazon Top 500 Reviewer
“And, in His time, the God shall come again,
From the south, upon a horse of gold,
To meet the Kindred camped upon the plain,
Or so our Sacred Ancestors were told...”
—From The Prophecy of the Return
The big man came ashore at the ancient port of Mazatlán, from off a merchantman out of the equally ancient port of Callao, far to the south. The men of the ship professed little sure knowledge of their former passenger, save that he was a proven and deadly warrior, certainly noble-born, though none seemed quite certain of the country of his origin.
This man, who gave his name as Maylo de Morré, stood a head and a handsbreadth above even the tallest of the men of the mountains who, themselves, towered over the men of the lowlands and coast. His hair was strippled with gray, but most of it was as black as their own, though not so coarse, and his hair, spadebeard and moustachios were cut and fashioned in the style of noblemen of the far-southern lands.
Silver he possessed, and gold, as well, but no man thought of taking it from him by force, not after they saw his smooth, effortless movements or looked but once into those brooding, dark-brown eyes. At his trim waist were shortsword, dirk and knife, another knife was tucked into the top of his right boot and the wire-wound leather hilt of a well-kept, antique saber jutted up over his left shoulder.
After he had secured lodgings in the best inn of the upper town, his first stop was at the forge of Mazatlán’s only armor-smith, where he stripped for measurements and ordered a thigh-length shirt of double-link chainmail, paying half the quoted cost in advance in strange, foreign, but pure, gold coins. And that night the smith told all the tavern of his customer’s hard, spare, flat-muscled body, covered from head to foot by a veritable networked of crosshatched lines denoting old scars—battle wounds, for certain, the smith opined.
The next morning, Morré sought out the town agent for old Don Humberto del Valle de Castillo y de las Vegas and shortly the two were seen to ride out toward the local nobleman’s estancia. When they returned the next day, the Don himself rode with them, trailed by ten of his lancers, and Morré was astride one of the fine war-stallions which it was the Don’s business and pleasure to breed and train. This stallion was of a chestnut hue that shone like fine gold, with mane and tail that seemed silvery ripples in the brisk breeze blowing in from the sea.
Two lancers fetched the stranger’s effects from the inn and, for the next month, he resided at Don Humberto’s townhouse as a clearly honored guest. He no longer visited the shops; rather, uniformed lancers summoned and escorted the various artisans to the mansion—the saddler, the bootmaker, the best of the sailors, a merchant who was ordered to bring with him several of the rare and hideously expensive but immensely powerful hornbows made by horse-nomads far and far to the north and east, and the armorer.
Julio, the saddler, had to confer with the goldsmith, Pedro, since some of the decorations the foreign nobleman wanted on his saddle and harness were beyond the skills of a provincial worker of leather. And the bootmaker, José, had to have words with Diego, the armorer, if the boots he was to construct were to be properly fitted with thin sheets of steel and panels of light mail.
The tailor, Gustavo, was nearly ecstatic, seeing great future profits from the new and unique designs of clothing this great nobleman had brought from overseas. His only outside need was to haggle with the tanner, Anselmo, for the extra fine grade of leather to line the esteemed gentleman’s riding breeches.
Sergio Gomez—who was a bastard half-brother of the Don and had, himself, done a bit of soldiering before bringing several years’ worth of loot back to the town of his birth and setting himself up as a merchant—could talk of nothing save Don Maylo’s horsemanship, bowmanship and skill with lance and saber.
Sitting in the smoky tavern with his pint-cup of mild-white pulque before him on the knife-scarred board and eager ears hanging upon his words, old Sergio puffed at a thin, black cigarro and opined, “Muchachos, I certify, el Senor Maylo de Morré is un hombre formidable. With either lance or saber, he is more than a match for any caballero I have ever seen fight...and I have seen many in my day.”
“But with the bow, now” he whistled softly, “I tell you, it smacks of wizardry. Within minutes after he had selected the bow of his choice and strung it to his satisfaction, he was plunking arrows into a bale of straw with such speed and accuracy as to make my poor old head to spin.”
“Then that splendid palomino stallion came trotting over, though no one had called him and the Senor had not even looked in that direction. The Senor hooked a full arrowcase to his belt and was up on the stallion with bow in hand in the blinking of an eye, without either saddle or reins or even a bare halter.”
“He rode far out, then came back at a hard gallop, guiding the stallion Senor Dios alone knows how, since both hands were busy with the bow. Muchachos, he started loosing shafts at a hundred meters or better from that bale of straw, and here to tell you is this one that not one of the dozen shafts he loosed was outside a space I could cover with my palm and fingers.”
“That would be good shooting from a firm stand at fifty meters. But from a galloping, barebacked horse at a hundred? Angel Gonzales, Don Humberto’s sergeant, is himself a bowmaster and has, as we all know, won many, many gold pesos in competition, and he told me that there can be no man in all the Four Kingdoms of Mexico with such skill.”
The merchant took a long draught of his pulque, puffed his cigarro back to life, then lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Don Humberto avows that the Senor Malyo de Morré is but a noble traveler from somewhere in the Associated Duchies of Chile, who is passing through on a leisurely trip; but Andel opines that he is none other than one of the famous Defensores Argentinos, on loan to our Emperor from the Emperor of the Argentinas and traveling secretly, incognito and in a most roundabout route to meet with his new master.”
Of course, all of them were wrong. Maylo de Morré was much less than they thought, but far more than they could imagine.
The long, difficult and dangerous journey across the Sierra Madre Occidentals to the Grand Duchy of Chihuahua was accomplished—through the good offices of Don Humberto, who seemed to have highly placed friends and/or relatives at the courts of all four kins and of the Emperor, as well—in company with a heavily guarded caravan which had wound down from the Emperor’s alternate capital at Guadalajara and was proceeding slowly up the coast roads, making frequent stops so that the merchants might offers their wares and the attached imperial officers could collect the yearly taxes from the various local officers, such as Don Humberto.
Despite the numerous and well-armed guards, Don Humberto would not hear of his guest departing with less than a full squad of his own lancer-bodyguards, a quarter of servants, and a fully equipped and provided pack-train to afford the estimable Conde Maylo de Morré security and civilized comforts on the long trek over the mountains. Don Humberto had never been able to obliquely wheedle—for of course gentlemen did not demand or even inquire about unoffered personal information from other gentlemen; it would have been most impolite—any particulars of el Senor’s true origin, nationality, family or rank from him. But he had proclaimed him a count so that his “rank” would match that of the commander of the caravan, who then would treat el Senor as an equal. The old Don felt that it was the least he could do to repay his guest for the many hours of pleasure his tales of the lands and peoples and their singular customs and mores had brought him here in his isolated and provincial little backwater empire.
For his own part, Don Ramón, Conde-Imperial de Guanajuato and Colonel-General of the Imperial Tax Service, had not needed old Don Humberto’s assurances. He knew a well-bred man when he saw one—the air of relaxed self-assurance, the strict observance of the courtesies and proprieties, the matchless seat which made a single creature of him and his fine destrier, the easy and natural assumption of command, like a hand slipping into an old and well-worn glove. Indeed, Don Ramón suspected that this foreign “Conde” had deliberately misled the aged Humberto, which his true rank was likely several notches higher, and throughout the first two legs of the journey, he deferred to his guest as he would have to his own overlord, el Principle de los Numeros. High nobles were often wont to travel incognito—this Don Ramón knew well from his years in and around the imperial court—and while he diligently played the game and always addressed the foreigner by his nombre de guerra and his assumed title, he never failed to treat him and see that he was treated like a prince of the imperial house.
The ambuscade was sprung in a rock-walled pass, high in the Sierras. While rocks crashed about them, throwing off knife-sharp splinters, and arrows hummed their dead song, while horses and mules and men screamed, whips cracked and confusion of those in authority was reflected in their torrent of often contradictory orders, Don Ramón caught a glimpse of Conde Maylo.
Despite his evident fear—his rolling eyes and distended nostrils—the palomino stallion stood still as a statue, while his noble rider calmly uncased and strung his hornbow. Behind him, his ten lances tried hard to emulate him, their efforts frustrated partially by less biddable mounts. Only the short, scar-faced sergeant managed to get his mount under sufficient control to allow him to ready his own bow and follow his lord when that worthy moved at an easy walk up into the pass.
When he was where he wished to be, the Conde once more brought his horse to a rigid halt. With rocks bouncing about them and arrows occasionally caroming off their helmets, the sergeant and his lord commenced—before Ramón’s half-disbelieving eyes—such a demonstration of superior archery as not even the ancient rocks could ever before have witnessed.
Soon, the falling rocks had been completely replaced by falling, screaming bodies, and after the good dozen of the bandit archers had hurtled, dead or dying, to the floor of the pass or had dropped their bows to sink back against the rock walls, shrieking in agony and clutching at the feathered shafts which had skewered various portions of their anatomies, their so-far living and whole comrades faded back among the boulders.
So it was that, when the heavily armed and mounted element of bushwhackers struck the head of the column, they found not a shattered, disorganized and demoralized party to slaughter and plunder at leisure, but rather a rock-hard line of disciplined troops.
Even before they came into physical contact with the waiting soldiery and gentry—almost all of whom should have been down, crushed by rocks or stuck full of arrows—volley on well-aimed volley of shafts rose up in a hissing cloud from the rear ranks to wreak havoc and death amongst the attackers.
Those who had set and activated the ambuscade were not soldiers but hit-and-run banditti, so they could not have been faulted for breaking and running immediately they saw their leaders hacked by sabers and broadswords, lifted writhing from their saddles on dripping lance points or hurled to death amid the stamping hooves by blow of ax or mace. Run, the survivors did and pursued they were. Very few escaped alive, nor were any prisoners taken, though several dozen heads were.
Few of the captured horses were of much account, so they were simply stripped of their ratty gear and turned loose. Those, which looked as if they might bring a price or a reward, were added to the packtrain, loaded with bags of bandit-heads and bundles of captured weapons, valuable for the worked metal.
For the rest, a few pieces of jewelry were taken from the corpses and a scant handful of gold and silver coin were garnered, as well as two battered, antique helmets and an assortment of arm rings of brass, copper and iron. None of the robbers had possessed boots or armor of any description or even decent clothing, only rags, rope sandals and jackets of stiff, smelly, ill-cured hide sewn with strips and discs of horn and bone.
Ramón had noted, despite the confusion of the melee, that Morré’s skill with his exotic saber was superior to that of most swordsmen if not quite the equal of his astounding talent with the hornbow; on the lance he could render no judgment, since his guest’s shaft had splintered on the first shock. But he was satisfied that this Don Maylo de Morré was a most competent warrior, by any standards, as well as a natural and accomplished field commander.
And all of this simply deepened the mystery, in the Conde-Imperial’s mind.
While men were sent to climb the crags to detach the heads of those ambushers who had not fallen from their perches—for each bandit head would bring half a peso in silver upon delivery to the proper authority—Ramón circulated, taking stock of his own casualties. That was when he saw Morré, leading his golden chestnut down the rocky defile, with young Don Caspar de Garrigo reeling in the saddle and the stocky archer-sergeant with the scarred, pocked face straddling the animal’s broad rump and gripping the high cantle. From both men, steady trickles of blood dripped down to streak the stallion’s glossy hide.
After his aides and other hurriedly summoned men had lifted down the swooning hidalgo and the agonized and creatively cursing sergeant, Ramón offered his own, sweat-soaked scarf to “Conde” Maylo, who was dabbing at the blood streaks on his destrier’s flanks.
“No, thank you. Count Ramón,” croaked Moire from a dry throat. “The only thing that will really help El Dorado, here, is a good wash. I’d settle for a pint of cool wine...or even a bare mouthful of stale water, right now.”
Ramón proffered the miraculously unbroken saddle-bottle. “Brandy-water, my lord, the best I fear I can do until we get on about a mile and set up camp.”
After a long, long pull at the flask, Morré said, “A mile, in those wagons, over these rocks? The young knight will likely be dead when we get there. Why not camp here? That riff-raff, what’s left of them, won’t be back.”
“My lord’s pardon, please,” said Ramón. “But this is not my first such trip. I know these mountains. This pass doubles as a seasonal riverbed. If my lord will regard those watermarks”—he indicated discolorations at least twelve feet high on the rock walls of the gap—”in this season, a storm could blow in from the west at any moment. But a mile beyond this place there is a fine plateau, with a spring and grass and a few trees.
“As for Don Gaspar, he is a tough hombre. And your sergeant, well, he looks to be the consistency of boiled leather. But I shall see that they are constantly attended and well-padded.”
In camp, Ramón and Morré watched the gypsy horse leech-cum-physician—all they now had, as the master physician of the Conde-Imperial’s staff had been brained by a ‘boulder early on in the ambush’—fumble and blunder his way through a wound-closure, nearly burning himself with the cautery.
Sergeant Angel Gonzales, whose deep wounds in thigh and upper arm assured him next place in line, had also been observing the less than efficient performance. Raising his good arm to attract his lord’s attention, he said, laconically, “Don Maylo, if it please you, I be a old sojer and I’ve survived right many wounds and camp fevers and I think I’d as life take my chances with dying of blood-losing or the black rot as put my flesh neath the iron of that faraon fastidioso. Like as not, he’d miss his pass at my thigh and sear off my man-parts.”
Morré smiled reassuringly down at his follower. “His lack of skill is not calculated to breed confidence, is it, Angel? Would you trust my hand guiding that cautery more?”
The sergeant’s ugly head bobbed vigorously. “For a surety, Don Maylo. But...your pardon, my lord. My lord has burned wounds before?”
“I, too, am an old soldier, Angel.” He said, gravely, “Yes, I have closed many a wound, over the years. And,” he added with a grin to lessen the palpable tension, “never once have I toasted valuable organs... by accident.”
With Angel and a couple of other lancers behind him, Morré and the men attending to the brazier and the dead physician’s other instruments proceeded with Ramón to his tent, wherein waited Don Caspar de Garrigo.
At Moire’s direction, the young knight was lifted off the camp bed and onto a sheet of oilskin spread on the earth. To Ramón’s questioning look, he answered, “That bed has too much give to it. Count Ramón, and we need above all things a firm surface beneath him. Have your men get his breeks off and his linens as well. When the iron burns his flesh, his body will release its water and probably its dung, too. You saw that outside, there.”
Morré reflected silently that chances were good the boy would die of lockjaw—tetanus infection—no matter what was done for him. “Short of,” he thought, “tetanus toxoid and antibiotics, but this poor lad was born five or six hundred years too late for such medical sophistication.”
A crude spear—really just an old knife-blade riveted to a shaft—had been jammed completely through the calf of the right leg, two thicknesses of boottop-leather, the tough, quilted saddle-skirt and deeply enough into the horse’s body to kill him, outright. Then Don Caspar had suffered the ill fortune to lie pinned beneath the dead horse until Morré had chanced across him. Likely, the horse’s body fluid had seeped into the man’s wound.
But Morré resolved to do the best he could with the primitive tools at hand. He sought through the bag of instruments until he found what he assumed was an irrigation instrument—a bulb of gut attached to a copper tube—then rinsed it inside and out with brandy from Ramón’s seemingly inexhaustible stock. He poured another quart bottle of the fiery beverage into a small camp-kettle, added half the measure of clear, cold spring-water and nodded to the waiting lancers who knelt to pinion the half-conscious knight into immobility.
Filling the bulb with the liquid. Moire scraped away the clots at either end of the wound and, disregarding the fresh flow of blood, thrust the nozzle of the copper tube into one end, pressed the gory flesh tight about it and gave the bulb a powerful squeeze. Diluted blood squirted out of the opposite opening.
And Don Caspar, his raw flesh subjected to the bite of the brandy, came to full, screaming, thrashing consciousness. He was an exceedingly strong young man and the six lancers were hard-put to hold him down, much less still, so before he proceeded with his treatment, Morré called for three or four more men.
But such was the pain of the second flushing of the penetrating stab that the hidalgo again lapsed into an unconscious state, though still he moaned and thrashed fitfully. When the wound was as clean as he felt he could get it. Moire took a thick strip of tooth-scarred rawhide from the physician’s bag, swished it about in undiluted brandy, then placed it between Don Caspar’s jaws, securing it with an attached strap around the patient’s head.
While one of his helpers sopped up the fluids—blood, brandy, water, serum, sweat and urine—from the oilskin, Morré looked to the cauteries in the glowing brazier, selected one and wrapped a bit of wet hide around the shaft.
“All right, hombres, turn the senor over, then hold him as if your lives depended on it. Put your weight on him. You, there, sit on his buttocks. Pablo, take your best grip on that knee. If your hands slip, I swear I’ll burn them for you.”
The patient had the misfortune to regain consciousness bare seconds before Morré was ready. Ramón knelt, gently dabbed the younger man’s brow with a bit of wet sponge and softly admonished, “Be brave, now, Caspar. Remember the honor of your casa. Set your teeth into the pera de agonia and implore Nuestra Senora that She grant you strength. Don Maylo is most skilled and it will be done quickly.”
It was. Morré lifted the pale-pink-glowing cautery from its nest of coals, blew on it once to remove any bits of ash, took careful aim, then laid it firmly upon the entry wound, holding it while he counted slowly to five. He tried vainly to stop his nose to the nauseating stench of broiling flesh, his ears to the gasps and whining moans of his patient.
Morré returned the cautery to the brazier and examined his handiwork, critically, while Don Caspar relaxed, sobbing despite himself, and a lancer cleaned his buttocks and legs of what had come when his anal sphincter failed. Ramón, himself, sponged away the mucus, which had gushed from the tormented man’s nostrils, all the while softly praising his bravery and self-discipline. Moire decided he could hardly have done a better job and, as he turned again to the brazier, hoped that the second and last burning would go as well.